During my four years of serving onboard the missions ship Doulos, it was exciting to sail to 52 ports in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Entering each new port, the crew members and I were briefed on what to expect in the host country, which we would call “home” wherever the ship docked.
During the ship’s two-week visit to Port Said, Egypt, I learned to exchange greetings in Arabic, dressed sensitively by wearing long- sleeved tops and long skirts, and had my first taste of falafel. I was also glad to meet some local students who eagerly befriended me because I was a foreigner. They were great hosts, bringing me to their favourite spots in town, inviting me to meet their families, and sharing their lives openly.
Even though I was a stranger in their land, their generous acceptance made me feel at home. This brought comfort as I was far away from loved ones in Singapore. However, the time soon came for Doulos to sail away. Sadly, I had to wave goodbye to new-found friends and leave my Port Said “home”. When we reached the next port in Jordan, the cycle started all over again.
Being on the move for those years, each of the 52 ports I visited was “home” for a while. But by the time I’d adjusted to the host country’s language, culture and people, it was time to leave again. I struggled with the constant changes and the fact that I could never settle long enough in one place to build community, be known personally and find rest.
I began wondering where my true “home” was, since I had left my home country, Singapore, and was now a foreigner in each new port. I longed for a “forever home” — an unchanging and permanent place of safety and refuge, where one’s heart can find solace and joy, belong to a like-minded community and be fully known.
The longing for a “forever home” is not new, and has been echoed by men and women of faith through the ages. When God called Abraham to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, he left his country and his people. With God’s guidance, Abraham made his new “home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country” (Heb 11:9). Yet, even after settling down, he looked forward to a home that was forever — “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). For others like Noah, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, the Bible tells us that they recognised they were “foreigners and strangers on earth … longing for a better country — a heavenly one” (Heb 11:13, 16).
In fact, Ephesians 2:19–20 affirms us our true identity: we are “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”. This like-minded community is not far off but found in the church. And this place of belonging among God’s people is a foretaste of our “forever home” which we can look forward to when Jesus returns for us.
So, no matter how our earthly homes may change and unsettle us, it’s assuring to know that we can already experience “home” with God’s people here. And as fellow citizens of heaven, we can make a difference in this world by being salt and light, pointing others to the hope of a “forever home” that is found in God alone.